There is beauty everywhere if you look close enough – that’s what Drew Macko (they/them) believes. As a member of the University of Oregon’s Journalist/Photographer Exploration Group (JPEG), the art major gets plenty of opportunities to exercise their photographic eye to capture what others might miss.

Macko’s journey to becoming a photographer began in 2011 when they entered 8th grade at Rancho Santa Margarita Intermediate in Rancho Santa Margarita, California. The school’s KRSM, a student run TV program, broadcasted a 15-minute show daily. It was as a member of KRSM that Macko became interested in videography, and, shortly thereafter, still photography. Noticing his child’s growing interest, Macko’s father donated a family heirloom of sorts, a film camera which he had gotten from his own father. Soon, young Macko took to sharpening their artistic vision.

“I started going on hikes after school and using the camera as much as I could. It just snowballed from there,” Macko said of their first experiences in still photography.

Macko’s father continued to help them develop as a photographer. With the addition of a digital camera into their arsenal for the sake of faster reproduction, the Mackos often took photos together. From that early time, the elder Macko was already pushing the younger to shoot manually and learn to expose their own photographs. With these skills at hand, Macko entered a local library’s photography contest at the end of 8th grade and went home with the 3rd place prize. It was as if something had clicked; looking back, they said, “That’s when I started to feel like, ‘oh, I could do this.’”

As an 8th grader, Macko’s entry into their library’s photography contest earned them 3rd place and became their first published work. It was this achievement that deepened Macko's conviction for photography. Photo by Drew Macko

Eight years later, Macko is still taken with photography and the idea of capturing a split second of emotion and conveying that to the viewer. To that end, they’re enrolled in UO’s School of Art and Design and striving to earn a degree in Art and Technology. Their plan is to master every creative platform they can so that they’ll be competitive professionally upon graduation. Macko is also sharpening their skill by continuing to make and edit photos with JPEG.

After hearing about JPEG through the group’s Instagram page, Macko attended a group meeting. In no time, they were taking part in photo competitions and going on day- or weekend-long excursions to various Oregon locales to practice making pictures with the group. These excursions – such as Macko’s favorite, to Lemolo and Crater Lakes – provided them with an opportunity to shoot some of their favorite subjects. The combination of landscape, nature, and portrait photography that one can achieve on these group outings is important, particularly to an Environmental Studies minor like Macko.

“I like JPEG so much because I like taking pictures of people enjoying their environment,” they said. ​​​​​​

Macko and members of JPEG atop an East Rim overlook at Crater Lake National Park. Photo by Drew Macko

To Macko, the mark of a truly successful photographer is the ability to convey to the viewer how a scene feels. One of Macko’s favorite photographers, National Geographic’s Paul Nicklen, has been documenting the “beauty and plight” of our planet for over 20 years, according to Nicklen’s website. Macko is seeking the same thing; they want to capture the benefits of nature that others miss – the way people feel when they’re outdoors, with nothing but each other’s company and wide-open spaces, or the small details that one must purposely seek out.

Their eye for detail and desire to help has pushed Macko into an unofficial role within JPEG: multiple group members credit Macko with teaching them to become better photographers.

Bakari Clark said of Macko, who taught her to shoot in manual, “It took me to another level.”

Consistent with their own beginnings as a photographer, Macko suggests to everyone who is interested in becoming a better photographer, “Don’t be afraid to mess up. Start shooting in manual and mess up a bunch.”​​​​​​​

Bakari Clark credits Macko with teaching her fundamental photography skills. Here she is at JPEG’s spring outing to Mount Pisgah. Photo by Drew Macko

With one year left in college, Macko is considering what comes next. “My career goals are: anything that puts me in a place in which I can use my photographic eye,” they said of the future. One thing is certain, though, they are going to continue teaching, creating and searching for the beauty in the world.

Macko surveys the vastness of an Eastern Oregon landscape. Photo by Alina Wei

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